Election 2017: Community-Focused Residents Vie For Fair Haven Council Seats

November 2, 2017
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By John Burton |

FAIR HAVEN — For the four candidates campaigning for the two Borough Council seats available in Fair Haven on Nov. 7, it’s about proven experience say the Republicans, as opposed to the Democrats who see the choice as a way to ensure a diversity of voices in the decision-making process.

Incumbent Republican Councilwoman Susan Sorensen and running mate Elizabeth “Betsy” Koch are competing against Borough Councilman Christopher Rodriguez who is running with Jessica Patel for the two, three-year terms. Sorensen has served two terms and Rodriguez has been on the council for one year, having been elected last November to fill an unexpired term. Koch and Patel have not held elected office.

 

The six-member council currently has five Republicans and one Democrat, with a Republican mayor.

While she’s never held an elected position, Koch points to her years of involvement in community and government work. Koch has been a member of the borough Zoning Board of Adjustment, a quasi-judicial body responsible for rendering decisions on land use applications; she has been a member of the parks and recreation committee for 27 years; and has been a career educator who had taught in the borough public school system for 20 years. During her more than four decades living in the community, Koch said, she has volunteered for the PTA and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

“I’ve always been active and want to continue to serve,” Koch said. Koch’s husband, the late Jerome Koch, had been a borough councilman for a number of years at the time of his death in 2014. Betsy Koch said she served as his sounding board, absorbing much of the information he acquired in his council duties and would like to put all her experience to work.

“I’d like to continue his legacy,” she offered. “I’m at the point in my life when I have the time and desire to do this.”

Patel is a stay-at-home mom with four school-age children attending local schools. Patel also stressed her participation in community organizations in her 10 years living in the borough, working with the PTA and as a Cub Scout den mother. “I think this a good time to put myself out there,” she said of her run for office. “I want to take it a little further.”

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She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, is a certified yoga instructor, and has begun working with her husband on designing a fundraising social network smartphone app. She hopes to bring a “new energy” to the council, offering a new voice going forward. “I’m really looking forward to the new experience.”

Sorensen, a telecommunications wholesale sales executive, has a longstanding tradition of volunteerism on her résumé, extending more than 20 years. She points to her work with the PTA, parks, recreation committee and a number of others.

During her time on the council she has worked to establish the Foundation of Fair Haven, a not-for-profit group that fundraises for borough activities, which also has Koch as a member; and has chaired the Fair Haven Day organizing committee (which started as the Centennial Committee, which she also chaired) and Oktoberfest organizing since 2012. “I think I’ve worked very hard improving the community,” she said.

Rodriguez works in the financial services industry, as owner of an interest rate swap exchange, as well as the global head of a financial technology company. He’s married with three children, who attend local schools.

He’s seeking a full term on the council because he said he “just scratched the surface” with his own work on the governing body and also with the council’s efforts on a number of fronts, he said.

Rodriguez noted the projects looming for the immediate future, as officials consider options for a renovated police headquarters and a new or renovated Public Works facility and community center. These are potentially big expenditures, he said, requiring planning and thought. “With my financial background, I think I can bring good decision-making,” he said.

“The borough is looking at spending significant money,” Sorensen said. “Not only is it crucial that we look at building the right facility, whatever we build, we have to make sure it’s without it being a huge burden for future generations.”

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Over her time as an elected official she said the council has shown itself to be financially sound, taking a long view that has benefitted the taxpayers. She noted that for over the last nearly eight years the municipal budget has remained either flat or seen a slight reduction in the tax rate, with the borough retaining its AA-bond rating. She attributes that to the experience she and others have shown. “I’m really proud of being part of such a successful team,” she said.

Koch sees the council member role as continuing that legacy, as she has done in other capacities, ensuring that “Fair Haven remains Fair Haven,” progressing into the future but retaining the cornerstones of the community – the charm and livability – that continue to attract families.

“We helped create an atmosphere that is very inviting,” Koch said of her and Sorensen’s efforts.

“We truly believe we’ve earned the right to ask people to vote for us,” Sorensen added.

“We can be a voice and an ear,” especially for those who may not regularly attend council meetings or other forums, Patel said. And she and Rodriguez feel they are “approachable,” and hope to advocate for improving the lines of communication in the community to make sure everyone is informed, and preserving the quality of life.

“The mutual focus of our campaign is to prepare for the next generation while preserving the traditions of Fair Haven,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why people move here.”


This article was first published in the Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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